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How the City Hurts Your Brain

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the but-not-paris dept.

Science 439

Hugh Pickens writes "The city has always been an engine of intellectual life and the 'concentration of social interactions' is largely responsible for urban creativity and innovation. But now scientists are finding that being in an urban environment impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory and suffers from reduced self-control. 'The mind is a limited machine,' says psychologist Marc Berman. 'And we're beginning to understand the different ways that a city can exceed those limitations.' Consider everything your brain has to keep track of as you walk down a busy city street. A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to redirect our attention constantly so that we aren't distracted by irrelevant things. This sort of controlled perception — we are telling the mind what to pay attention to — takes energy and effort. Natural settings don't require the same amount of cognitive effort. A study at the University of Michigan found memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent after people spent an hour interacting with nature. 'It's not an accident that Central Park is in the middle of Manhattan,' says Berman. 'They needed to put a park there.'"

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439 comments

Good exercise? (4, Insightful)

Narcocide (102829) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340867)

Just because its more distracting doesn't mean its bad for you.

Re:Good exercise? (2, Funny)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340933)

Hell, if I've got something to think about and somewhere to go (either walking or driving), I'll find myself there without being aware of actively avoiding people and/or cars.

Then again, I am Vulcan. Human's may not be capable of this.

Re:Good exercise? (2, Funny)

Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340971)

Then again, I am Vulcan. Human's may not be capable of this.

I can. But I'm not sure what that means. Can humans do this or am I Vulcan as well? We should have a poll over this.

Re:Good exercise? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341199)

oh my god, nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd.

CowTax's opinion on this matter (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341555)

There is a reason that we do not have polls over this. It would be a waste of corporate time [cowtax.com] as you are probably at work...and it is DEFINITELY not safe for work.

Re:CowTax's opinion on this matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341625)

Ouch.. that poor jar!

Re:Good exercise? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341769)

Then again, I am Vulcan. Human's may not be capable of this.

I can. But I'm not sure what that means. Can humans do this or am I Vulcan as well? We should have a poll over this.

Don't talk to the strange man who thinks he is one of a fictional race from a pretend spaceman tv show. He'll probably try to molest you or worse, show you his cheeto-stained XXXL Starfleet uniform.

I find it stimulating (2, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340979)

I wonder if they studied city people or country folk?

Personally I like having that level of movement and activity around, I find it somehow comforting. I certainly don't find "coping" with city streets stressful, except when it's nearing christmas and all the f*ck-damned tourists are crowding up the place and getting in the way.

Guess I've lived in the city long enough to not find it a problem.

Re:I find it stimulating (5, Interesting)

ta bu shi da yu (687699) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341113)

I'm feeling very ambivalent about this study. Sure, walking down a busy street requires concentration. And? If you look at it this way, it's actively improving your concentration.

The truth is that most people work in office buildings that are not that busy, and they only spend a tiny fraction of their day in a busy and distracting environment. Honestly, this sounds like a study that was trying to find evidence that supports a predetermined conclusion.

Re:I find it stimulating (5, Funny)

adrianwn (1262452) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341641)

The truth is that most people work in office buildings that are not that busy, and they only spend a tiny fraction of their day in a busy and distracting environment.

An office environment is not distracting? Have you ever heard of e-mail, youtube or slashdot?

Re:I find it stimulating (5, Insightful)

trolltalk.com (1108067) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341675)

The truth is that most people work in office buildings that are not that busy, and they only spend a tiny fraction of their day in a busy and distracting environment.

An office environment is not distracting? Have you ever heard of e-mail, youtube or slashdot?

Or shared cubicles. Or cubicles where you can hear EVERYTHING your coworkers are doing. Or the noise of dozens or hundreds of PCs.

Since the city is supposed to hurt the brain, can I get a doctors' note to go work in the country instead of the office?

Seriously, it's no wonder that I get more work done when I work from home than from the office.

Re:I find it stimulating (1)

ta bu shi da yu (687699) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341773)

I deal with all those things on a daily basis. Nope, it's not that bad.

Re:Good exercise? (4, Insightful)

mh1997 (1065630) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341645)

Just because its more distracting doesn't mean its bad for you.

Exactly, I've seen people drive a car while putting on make up, talking on the phone, reading the paper, and drinking a cup of coffee all at the same time and have yet to see a single car accident in any city I've ever lived in. And we've never heard of someone not paying attention on the street and stepping in front of a car/bus.

Hell, my kids tell me that they can do homework while watching TV and chatting online.

Yes, distractions are not bad for you large cup of coffee with cream and an egg mcmuffin please and they actually help.

Re:Good exercise? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341711)

Just because its more distracting doesn't mean its bad for you.

Totally. As a city dweller, suburbia totally deadens my brain. I always get more conceptually-difficult programming done in a crowded bus station than at Starbucks inside some generic Babble-Brook Mall.

Just visit Manhattan (4, Interesting)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340877)

Just head to Manhattan and look at the people around you. Everyone is constantly glancing around at everything. It's not just the tourists either--very nearly every single person is constantly shifting his gaze from point to point like a coked out monkey with ADD. It's one of the things that I hate about New York.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (4, Funny)

wisty (1335733) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340893)

Is the damage reversible, or do New Yorkers stay like that indefinitely?

Re:Just visit Manhattan (5, Insightful)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341101)

Presumably they eventually manage to recover at least somewhat, but I can tell you from personal experience that they remain permanently insufferable. Ask anyone who has lived in New York about pizza, or public transportation, or pretty much anything else for that matter and the conversation will eventually turn to how much better New York is than wherever it is they currently happen to be. One wonders why they don't just go back and stay there.

I have yet to meet an ex-New Yorker who isn't excessively proud of the fact that he once lived in "The City". They're worse than Texans.

Well, no... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341177)

You seem kind of bitter about it. New York has some things going for it--if it didn't, it wouldn't be such a huge place economically and culturally.

The public transportation is pretty good, except that they haven't put in new subway lines since the private sector got less involved. But the subway is 24-hour, which is pretty great, and it basically never shuts down for maintenance. That doesn't mean it's always safe, but it's nice. (At 3 in the morning, there are places you don't want to go.)

The pizza's good because the water's right for it--you can't make good pizza with the wrong kind of water. I don't know why, it just works out that way. If you are also lucky enough to know a place with a good chef, you're in heaven.

Other cities have virtues, too--e.g. Seattle with its Coffee and Imperial Walkers. And I've heard they have a troll under a bridge, which is wonderful!

Re:Well, no... (2, Insightful)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341187)

Thanks for proving my point. There are things to like about New York. New Yorkers are not one of them. Ex-New Yorkers even less so.

The only thing I'm less interested in than how awesome New York is would be hearing people talk about how awesome New York is.

Re:Well, no... (3, Insightful)

trolltalk.com (1108067) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341803)

New York has some things going for it--if it didn't, it wouldn't be such a huge place economically and culturally.

You seem to have spent the last year in a coma. Let me bring you up to date. Financial market crashed. Banks bailed out. Wall Street decimated.

the subway is 24-hour, which is pretty great, and it basically never shuts down for maintenance.

It's also noisy. Maybe they should do some maintenance, and switch over to a rubber-tired system.

The pizza's good because the water's right for it

Must be all those pollutants in the river. Maybe they've permanently altered your taste buds.

Seriously, the air absolutely stinks and the streets are filthy. About the only thing going for it is it ISN'T New Jersey.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (3, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341537)

Londoners have the same disease, to a slightly lesser extent.

I'm moving away from *my* City, London, in a few months and I just hope I don't turn into one of those people.

"Oh, well when I was in London..."
"In London you can get..."
"Well in London these things are open 24 hours..."
"What, you don't have any sushi/thai/dim-sum restaurants within walking distance?"
"Oh but in London I could always find..."

Yeah.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (1)

Mistshadow2k4 (748958) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341857)

You most likely will turn into one of those people, regardless of what large city you're from. I'm originally from Louisville (yes, where the Kentucky Derby is held) and the differences between living in Louisville and an urban area are incredible. I guess what will make the difference is whether or not you're the sort who will say all that stuff out loud.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (2, Interesting)

ultracool (883965) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341731)

Perhaps there is more to the article... Have they compared people from cities to people who already live in the countryside? A person who grew up in a big city would be used to all the stimulus, so when the extra "load" is removed, they improve 20% according to TFA. Does this 20% surpass the mental abilities of people who grew up in the countryside?

So city people are some kind of mental superhumans, and once removed from their highly stimulative environment, they ourperform the non-city people.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (4, Funny)

unitron (5733) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341065)

Everyone is constantly glancing around at everything.

Probably trying to avoid muggers and eye contact with the crazies.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (4, Interesting)

drunkenoafoffofb3ta (1262668) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341143)

Perhaps it's because I've only visited as a tourist, but I find Manhattan's busy-ness and bustling quite energizing, and the memory of it makes me want to visit again. As I type this at my desk. In a managed office building. In a business park. Looking at a motorway. Zzzzzz....

Re:Just visit Manhattan (1)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341179)

Actually, it's because Manhattan hurt your brain when you were there. It's actually intentional--it's the only way they can keep the theaters on Broadway packed for inane pablum like "Cats".

Re:Just visit Manhattan (1)

kaizokuace (1082079) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341201)

I think what you take as energizing really is the opposite. It takes energy to be in such a busy place. Your attention is all over the place so your mind is running full speed. You walk a lot so you do more physical exercise. Its great for a little while because it's like getting a work out. When you work out you get endorphins goin and your heart rate goes up and it feels good. If you were working out non stop all day you would no longer get those endorphins goin and just be tired. Living in the city is tiring just as working out all day long every day is. I'm not talking about like lightly working out. I'm saying hard pushing to the limit everyday.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (1)

drunkenoafoffofb3ta (1262668) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341653)

No, believe me, I understand fatigue, and energizing, and my, perverse, personal, borne of a 3-day visit, experience was energizing. Perhaps living there, with a long commute to work there would grind me down-- like it does from a suburb to a business park in England-- but unless I was a street vendor, I'm not sure I would be that (additionally) b*ggered by everyday work in an air-conditioned office with double glazing to insulate me from the noise, like the one I currently work in. In essence, I suppose I love NY, but I'd probably age at twice the normal rate, if I lived there for a long time!

Re:Just visit Manhattan (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341215)

I haven't been to Manhatten for many years, but I live in London which is easily comparable. I also find the bustle energising. Everything is nearby, I can always be doing something if I want to. If I want nature, there's also lots of green spaces (more than any other city, apparently). The only downside is the traffic pollution (ban cars!), and the higher cost of living.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (1)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341739)

Mmm, yes. Everything you could ever possibly need in one convenient place. No reason to ever go anywhere else.

I also live in a major urban area with much the same features as New York or London, and I find one of its nicest qualities is the ease by which I can drive out of it whenever I want to. That's not to say I don't appreciate the convenience of living here; I just also like to experience the world beyond the concrete island when I can.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (5, Insightful)

Servo (9177) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341259)

I disagree. The tourists are the only ones looking at everything trying to catch it all in, not the locals going about their daily life. The rest of us are just avoiding eye contact and only paying attention to where we are going and what's going to intersect our path getting there.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (1)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341355)

New Yorkers like to think that, but it's just not true. Go out and really watch people during the day sometime and you'll start to notice it. Watch the eyes. It's just human nature.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (1)

ultracool (883965) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341661)

I think that's just object avoidance.

Re:Just visit Manhattan (1)

Tokerat (150341) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341847)

...every single person is constantly shifting his gaze from point to point like a coked out monkey with ADD. It's one of the things that I hate about New York.

Quick note: You're closer than you think. :-)

What natural setting? (5, Insightful)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340901)

Natural settings don't require the same amount of cognitive effort.

A jungle or other wild forest does. It is living in cultivated land (farmland or even managed forests) that requires an unnatural low amount of cognitive effort.

Re:What natural setting? (5, Insightful)

TheP4st (1164315) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340991)

Having spent significant time in both subtropical wild nature and Scandinavian forrests as well as busy cities like New York, Hong Kong, Manila I beg to differ. While the amount of sounds in a subtropical forrest can be very large they in no way compare to the unnatural sounds of blaring car horns, screaming cab drivers, car engines, hordes trampling another (somethimes to death) during sales season. The former I (and probably most people) find peaceful and the latter stressing. The danger of getting harmed is also much greater in the latter, be it by crossing 5th avenue at the wrong moment or looking at a unstable stranger. Sure, being in the wild also involve a certain amount of danger and it's subsequent cognitive effort but, I am convinced that it is not even anywhere near to what is the case in a modern large city.

Anecdote about 5th Av. (2, Funny)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341167)

> be it by crossing 5th avenue at the wrong moment

When I was a lot younger (and spacier), after about a year and a half of living in Manhattan, I was walking on 51st St. and suddenly a ladybug landed on my hand. I was so surprised and thrilled at that (being the opposite of a real "city boy") that I crossed 5th Av. against the light (or mostly against the light) and only a few minutes after understood what I had done.

Re:Anecdote about 5th Av. (5, Funny)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341581)

I was walking on 51st St. and suddenly a ladybug landed on my hand.

On 51st St, it might've been a gentleman bug dressed as a ladybug. Sometimes it's hard to tell.

Re:What natural setting? (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341233)

So for you the problem isn't the city, the problem is the traffic, both the noise and the danger. (Without the huge amount of road space given over to cars, there'd be a lot more room for hordes in the sales season.)

Pedestrian-only areas in cities are great :)

Re:What natural setting? (1)

Servo (9177) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341297)

I dunno about you but I feel a lot more safer crossing 5th Ave than being out in the wild where I might get mauled by a bear or some sort of big cat.

Re:What natural setting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341813)

That's just because you know how to avoid cars, but not how to avoid bears.

Re:What natural setting? (4, Interesting)

wickerprints (1094741) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341393)

This is not only incorrect, but it is also not the point of the original article. First of all, I will address your specific statements. Being in the wilderness is not less stressful than being in civilization. That flies in the face of our entire human history. You, a modern human, only enjoy the wilderness now as a convenience brought to you by the comforts of modern technology. Where and how do you get your food, shelter, water, safety? It is illogical to compare being run over in the street with some romanticized notion of idyllic nature, because you have been far removed from primary threats to existence such as disease, predation, exposure, and starvation.

Second, the point of the article is that urban environments are cognitively distracting compared to a natural setting. That may be true but it is also pointless. What is the base level of cognitive ability? Did the study compare attention and mental focus for individuals who are simply sitting comfortably in their home doing nothing? It stands to reason that if there is a correlation between environment and cognition, the most safe and peaceful environment would provide the best result. But I object to this kind of weakly disguised propaganda that continues to romanticize and idealize the superiority of "nature." Don't get me wrong, I enjoy being outdoors. But I have no illusions that my ability to enjoy being outdoors is ENTIRELY predicated upon the fact that my safety and well-being is facilitated by the comforts of modern human civilization and technology.

I accept the fact that I don't have the ability to be tossed into the wild and survive. I don't need to. Moreover, I don't WANT to. Why would I want to spend most of my day worrying about where my next meal is going to come from, or providing for basic safety? That is how we all lived thousands of years ago, and that is how many people in underdeveloped countries continue to live today. There is a very good reason why humans discovered the benefits of civilization long ago. The notion that civilization is evil and we should embrace nature and return to a nomadic life is yet another insult to those who live in squalor and desperation among us.

Re:What natural setting? (2, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341683)

In the wilderness you can rely on your ears and even your nose to help alert you to danger.

In the city the only thing you got are your eyes. and that does in fact stress out the brain because it no longer has any ability to spread around the processing. Plus Humans are not Herd creatures, and we honestly are uncomfortable in a herd. Yet oversized cities stuff us into the giant herd and it stresses us out.

Yes I cant think as well when in a large herd of people. Go to a hockey or baseball game and try to think of some mathematical exercise while navigating the herd.

Now do the same in the wilderness alone.

I can do it on a hike, in fact most of my "AHA!" moments are when I am out in the wild. Hell when I'm sardine canned like we get at concerts and baseball games I can barely carry on a conversation.

Although you can clear a path around you really quick if you say loudly, "OH I'm GONNA PUKE!" suddenly everyone around you will get out of your personal space. The threat of being puked on is a wonderful thing when forced into the herd.

Re:What natural setting? (1)

Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340995)

Exactly. Both the jungle as the city require constant attention. Otherwise you get eaten by a random animal or hit by a car.
On cultivated land the worst that could happen to you is peeing on a electrified fence.

Re:What natural setting? (1)

bentcd (690786) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341249)

Exactly. Both the jungle as the city require constant attention. Otherwise you get eaten by a random animal or hit by a car.

Large predators are pretty rare and those that do skulk around will generally be skeptical at attacking something as large and unfamiliar as a human. They will tend to need to be rather desperate to even try. Paranoid prey animals are probably more dangerous but often occur in herds so are easy to spot and avoid. (Malevolent mother moose notwithstanding.)
The real dangers of the jungle are those that I am not trained to spot anyway so I might as well not waste much effort in trying: poisonous critters, unsafe food, dangerous camping grounds, etc.

On cultivated land the worst that could happen to you is peeing on a electrified fence.

Cattle, on the other hand, are used to humans and don't necessarily think twice before deciding to shift their weight around.

Re:What natural setting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26340997)

I think that they mean everything but city.

Re:What natural setting? (5, Funny)

little1973 (467075) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341019)

bush, bush, tree, bush, tiger, bush, oh wait...

Re:What natural setting? (1)

master_p (608214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341743)

...black mamba... (over 100 km/h speed!)

Re:What natural setting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341033)

A jungle or other wild forest does. It is living in cultivated land (farmland or even managed forests) that requires an unnatural low amount of cognitive effort.

The sentence before:

This sort of controlled perception -- we are telling the mind what to pay attention to -- takes energy and effort.

Perhaps they meant that in a natural sourrounding you pay attention on these things subconsciously, which might require less energy and effort.

Re:What natural setting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341213)

Natural settings don't require the same amount of cognitive effort.

A jungle or other wild forest does. It is living in cultivated land (farmland or even managed forests) that requires an unnatural low amount of cognitive effort.

No; the point with the cognitive effort required in urban areas is not that we have to constantly look out for dangerous animals/cars (seriously, when was the last time you were hit by a car? I feel quite save in an urban environment), but rather that we have to ignore all these noises and lights, because they are irrelevant. And this is what I find most stressful in cities.

Your citation was the sentence following this quote:

A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to redirect our attention constantly so that we aren't distracted by irrelevant things. This sort of controlled perception -- we are telling the mind what to pay attention to -- takes energy and effort.

In a jungle, you have to look out for a handful of dangerous animals (most of them usually run away as soon as they notice humans coming along) and some toxic plants, that's all.

Re:What natural setting? (1)

huit (1285438) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341267)

The human brain and nervous system evolved in the presence of natural stimuli and is prepared for these. Often the kinds of shortcuts it made to handle this information worked well in our evolutionary history but fail us now.
Additionally cities are human constructs and as such attract a great deal of attention from human brains, a cockroach would likely not feel as significant a difference in the surroundings (forest-city)

Re:What natural setting? (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341277)

A jungle or other wild forest does. It is living in cultivated land (farmland or even managed forests) that requires an unnatural low amount of cognitive effort.

Excellent point.

I'd also add that humans, undoubtedly like all creatures, have the capacity to decide how much cognitive effort is required in a given context, and how that effort should be focused. It's possible, for example, (but hardly advisable) for a student to study while listening to music, and a dog, while gifted with a superiour sense of hearing, is perfectly capable of tuning out blaring music while being sensitive for the sounds of a cat's meow, another's dog bark, or someone saying dinner's ready.

The general point that unwanted or excessive stumuli is "tiring" is perfectly valid but that said, it sounds like the researchers have been reading too much Thoreau.

Re:What natural setting? (1)

registered_after_8_y (1445553) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341375)

Maybe there is as much stimuli in a jungle/forest, but bear in mind that our brains have been tuned for that over a long time, so it is probably not unnatural and thus as hard for the human cognitive system to cope with

The truth at long last ... (0, Redundant)

rohan972 (880586) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340961)

But now scientists are finding that being in an urban environment impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory and suffers from reduced self-control.

Revenge at last. Suck it up, slickers!

City slickers brains don't work properly, who'da thunk it? Guess that's why they can't trust themselves with guns.

Brain Overload (3, Interesting)

bossanovalithium (1396323) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340977)

Isn't this similar to the report a while back saying that our brains are becoming affected by google browsing - information overload if it arrives in huge chunks is difficult to assimilate. Imagine you are on a plane for 10 hours - the white noise of the engine, and the bland colours - then you are off the plane, into the airport, a bustling place - you are tired, the airport is busy, and you feel overwhelmed.

Re:Brain Underload - Brain Overload (2, Interesting)

andyh3930 (605873) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341133)

I must be even worse the pilots. Especially doing a Trans-Ocean flight, Say LHR to JFK each end completely manic, multiple commands from ATC, lots of other aircraft to watch out for, reconfiguration of the aircraft but in the Middle Several hours of not a lot.
That's one job I'd hate to do.

Re:Brain Underload - Brain Overload (2, Interesting)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341635)

At one point a proposal was floated that suggested that pilots be allowed/encouraged to play video games during those 'down times' so that they'd be more alert and ready to handle an emergency if one should pop up. I can't seem to find the link to the article. 8-(

They needed to put a park there. (5, Insightful)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 5 years ago | (#26340983)

Nonsense. This is the kind of semi-plausible revisionist bullshit that gives scientists a bad name. The park is a result of politics, New York simply wanted a stylish park to rival other big cities at the time, and they evicted the poor who already lived there to achieve that goal. It's got nothing to do with the need to improve people's mental faculties by communing with nature.

Re:They needed to put a park there. (1)

kaizokuace (1082079) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341225)

...and they evicted the poor who already lived there to achieve that goal. It's got nothing to do with the need to improve people's mental faculties by communing with nature.

You could say that it has something to do with improving the mental faculties of wealthier people?

Quiet room (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341003)

Surely a nice quiet room can achieve the same thing?

Basically dont walk down 5th Av when trying solve the (math?) problems of the world.

Re:Quiet room (0, Offtopic)

DuncanE (35734) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341015)

I didnt tick Anonymous?????

What a bunch of BS (4, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341011)

First, Central Park was put on the edge of the city when it was built. In the 19th century people tended to think ahead more.

Second, I would bet the author has never actually been in a truly wild setting, where there are animals around that might hunt you. The wild is no place to be oblivious.

Third, note this from the original article (really a press release) :

The researchers also tested the same theory by having subjects sit inside and look at pictures of either downtown scenes or nature scenes and again the results were the same: when looking at photos of nature, memory and attention scores improved by about 20 percent, but not when viewing the urban pictures.

If looking at pictures can help your memory its clearly not so much where you are, as what you are looking at. I wonder what city views they were showing, and whether, say, views of Paris or Prague would cause the same reaction.

If what they are saying really boils down to that we need some beauty in our surroundings, they are a few thousand years behind the times.

Re:What a bunch of BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341047)

And this is why the Mac is the best computer to use if you respect your mind.

Re:What a bunch of BS (1)

dword (735428) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341135)

That's because, after living in a city for tenths of years, you're just sick of the same things: cars, crowded streets, artificial light, etc. If were to take someone who lived in the jungle and show them pictures of cars, crowded streets and put them in a room with artificial lightning, I bet they'd be very interested in everything and their attention will increase by about 20 percent.

The article is slightly misleading, because it doesn't mention that anything in excess is bad (small doses of alcohol are helpful, but the trouble is that "excess" alcohol means even 100ml of something strong), it just says something along the lines of "the city hurts your brain because it's the city" instead if saying "the city hurts your brain because you've been living in it for too phucking long."

Re:What a bunch of BS (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341165)

Central park is where it is because they needed somewhere to graze cows so the city could have fresh milk. The same reason as almost every urban park in the world.

Re:What a bunch of BS (3, Informative)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341601)

Central park is where it is because they needed somewhere to graze cows so the city could have fresh milk. The same reason as almost every urban park in the world.

Got any evidence for that? This [wikipedia.org] seems to contradict that, and my understanding is that a lot of parks in the UK were created during the 19th century for the use of the growing urban population.

Also, especially given the smaller size of cities in the pre-mass transportation area, I doubt that having the cows smack in a designated area in the middle of the city as opposed to any other pocket of green land or keeping them on the outskirts was very likely.

Re:What a bunch of BS (2, Insightful)

geekymachoman (1261484) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341171)

He did not say it's better to live in the 'wild', rather, it's better to be in a more natural environments, small city's, village's ... etc.

Re:What a bunch of BS (2, Informative)

dword (735428) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341265)

He did not say it's better to live in the 'wild', rather, it's better to be in a more natural environments, small city's [theworldac...tokang.com] , village's [theworldac...tokang.com] ... etc.

The plural for "city" is "cities" and the plural for "village" is "villages." No grammar nazism here, just helping a fellow.

Re:What a bunch of BS (4, Insightful)

Carewolf (581105) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341295)

There are more dangerous animals that would hunt and kill you in the middle of New York city than any wild area in the world.

Please try to go outside once in a while, and don't believe the scaremongering.

Re:What a bunch of BS (1)

J4 (449) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341563)

Come on now, the rats aren't that big.

Re:What a bunch of BS (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341681)

You're the one who's afraid of the city, though he should go outside?

I actually live in outback Australia (relatively), and here's what you need to keep an eye out for:

Spiders, we have a lot of lethal spiders, and it's almost impossible to get rid of them. I've had huge problems with spiders. This is a year round problem, I've woken up twice with spiders on my face, I'm so desensitised to it now.

Snakes, we have a lot of lethal snakes, and every year when it comes time to catch and kill them (Ever have to do that in the city?), is a dangerous time of year. They come out at the start of summer, and go for areas around the house.

Kangaroo's, when I drive home from a mates and it's at around 2am, I need to have my wits about me, as kangaroos are all over this area. They randomly jump out in front of your car, and will write your car off. This has happened to a lot of friends of mine, and I always have to be weary of it.

Then you got all sorts of other shit, especially if you want to go in the water.

Long story short, I live out here, and there's a fuck load to keep an eye out for. When I go into the city, I don't worry half as much.

Re:What a bunch of BS (2, Interesting)

indiechild (541156) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341775)

I thought I was the only one who wakes up to find spiders on his face in the middle of the night. WTF. I wonder why they do that?

Re:What a bunch of BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341309)

Second, I would bet the author has never actually been in a truly wild setting, where there are animals around that might hunt you. The wild is no place to be oblivious.

This is discussed elsewhere [slashdot.org] . It's a different kind of concentration necessary.

when looking at photos of nature, memory and attention scores improved by about 20 percent, but not when viewing the urban pictures.

If looking at pictures can help your memory its clearly not so much where you are, as what you are looking at.

The things you are looking at (photographs or real things) certainly influence your feelings. Being reminded of a stressful environment may adversely effect you cognitive abilities, there's nothing strange about that.

I wonder what city views they were showing, and whether, say, views of Paris or Prague would cause the same reaction.

I think beautiful old buildings and bridges or some romantic scenery at the river may have a positive impact; it would be interesting what kind of pictures specifically were shown.

I don't say I fully support this study and its implications, but for me it is entirely not surprising.

Re:What a bunch of BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341415)

Your allusion to the dangers of the wild doesn't apply in North America. Very few predators were dangerous to, or even particularly interested in man. Wolves and pumas were the only two real predators to be concerned of unless you were a child, in which case the smaller cats (bobcat, lynx) could be a concern. Yes, some poisonous snakes and spiders exist, or a slow-moving gila. Alligators. These all exist in regions of North America, but not in sufficient numbers to be as big of a concern as you raise.

Advertising Blitz (1)

permaculture (567540) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341057)

If only advertising could be better targetted. There are garish billboards everywhere, many of which don't apply to lots of the folks who see them.

Advertising directed only at the folk who actually might use the product or service, would give us all back some minutes/hours every day.

Re:Advertising Blitz (1)

innerweb (721995) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341347)

I believe the movie Minority Report [wikipedia.org] kind of hits on that idea. There are other sci fi movies that do so, both better and worse, but the idea has been there for a long time.

We are actually headed in that direction. As we become more of a police type state through monitoring people and tracking individual's movements, locations, etc. we also provide highly valuable commercial data for advertisers and other to target individuals. Some people like this, as they see the constant *big brother* presence as comforting and secure, while others see it as intrusive and threatening.

So, targeted advertising will probably not work the way many if not most people are comfortable with, as it requires the ability to know very personal information about a person. Unless they can come up with a way to know who you are and what your likes and dislikes are without knowing who you are (??), I doubt it is going to happen soon.

Just having an idea about how abusive those in power are with that power, I would be terrified of living in a society with those capabilities. You don't have to do anything wrong to become a pawn in someone else's power game.

InnerWeb

Pfft (1)

Xaemyl (88001) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341077)

Not to be inflammatory, but what a crock of shit.

For fucks sake, we just cant win, can we? Citys are bad! The Wilderness is bad! Global Warming! Global Cooling! Magnetic reversal of the poles! Cellphones that lead to brain cancer!

Chill out, people.

consumerism (1)

nairolF (315683) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341079)

I can imagine that shopkeepers might oppose parks on the grounds that urbanly stressed people are more likely to buy stuff they don't need.

Re:consumerism (1)

Koiu Lpoi (632570) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341137)

This whole idea is nothing new. I recommend anyone interested in this track down a copy of Georg Simmel's, "The Metropolis and Mental Life". Let's just say that, in 1950, he was saying pretty much all of this.

Central Park (4, Funny)

YourExperiment (1081089) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341109)

'It's not an accident that Central Park is in the middle of Manhattan,' says Berman.

For real? I thought they'd just forgotten to build shit there.

How many people did they test this on? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341111)

Different age groups?
Different backgrounds?
Different mental states? (as in, people will certain mental "illnesses")

I sure don't feel any thicker just by being in cities and towns.
In fact, i have a pretty damn high awareness of my surroundings.
They should give me a call up and test me, i will blow their minds.
Just as long as they are willing to pay my plane over.

Creativity versus attention span (1)

aepervius (535155) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341129)

As far as i can tell it was a ncie enough compromise to lead us to where we are, and maybe even further beyond. I leave the attention span and nature life to my short lived ancestor.

True! (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341145)

Its true! Since i moved from Ironforge to the gardens of Dalaran i gained +20 int!

This is just nature-is-better-than-tech garbage (4, Informative)

evil_arrival_of_good (786412) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341287)

According to my MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science: Cities function as a cognitive artifact. Cognitive artifacts are external physical things that aid cognition.

Humans are not all the same, and what most humans were 10,000 years ago has little to do with our default abilities and preferences today. There is not even a linear progression, various climate and cultural filters have output humans with vastly different ideal environments.

The nature-would-do-us-best thesis is a feelgood mythology for people ill suited for the present technological norms most humans practice.

On a personal note have lived in Seattle, Akutan AK (island in Bering Sea), Kanab UT, and Antarctica. My mind did fine in all four places.

OS analogy (5, Insightful)

theheadlessrabbit (1022587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341313)

being raised in a rural town, i suspect that I notice this effect much more strongly than urbanites. when i'm in the city, everything is fighting for my attention simultaneously, so i just tune everything out.

I wonder if something similar occurs when using a multitasking operating system.

in the old days, a personal computer would be set to do one thing and one thing only at any one time. now i have music running in the background, along with gimp and pidgin, while i try to post on Slashdot. I'm so distracted, this post took me nearly 45 minutes to type up, and i can almost guarantee I wont get a +5 insightful.

Re:OS analogy (1)

rustalot42684 (1055008) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341499)

i can almost guarantee I wont get a +5 insightful.

Somehow I don't think that's because you use a multitasking operating system...

LEGALIZE IT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341325)

no better way to get back to nature than to imbibe the herb (with a vaporizer, damn smoking laws)

In the street? (1)

MikeUW (999162) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341337)

The last times I remember doing any work of significance, requiring intensive thought, I was either in my home or at my office. Seriously...I we'll be okay if the best innovations don't all take place on a street corner at a busy intersection.

OTOH - what these guys should really be examining is the impact that reading /. has on our brains. Ouch!

city vs country (2, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341403)

i'd buy this actually, having been raised in a rural area and now living in a city i can say that city people are far more scatter brained than country people. while city people try to bag country people as being slow, really it's they are actually thinking before opening their mouths.

on an inter personal level as well i've found most city born and breed types are emotional train wrecks.

Do we still need the downtown? (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341433)

Nice study that confirms what we all knew: that the downtown is the worst place to live and full of smog. Downtowns developed for safety and economic reasons, but now we have the Internet, so I expect people to start abandoning the downtown to live in suburbs and the countryside close to nature, communicating and working through the Internet (as I do). We really don't need a smog-infected and crime-prone downtown anymore.

Re:Do we still need the downtown? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341611)

You should be aware that the trend of moving out of inner cities has been reversed in USA as well as in Europe under the last couple of years.

As it stands you prophecy is completely wrong. The internet has done nothing to promote the trends you are predicting.

Where are my mod points when I need them (1)

ImOnlySleeping (1135393) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341639)

I believe you failed to read the articles. The benefit was increased interaction, the detriment was over-stimulation. Smog, crime, safety and economics were not mentioned at all and somehow, someone rated you up.

Some My Favorite Cities (1)

aquatone282 (905179) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341569)

In the order I got to know them:

  • Edinburgh
  • Seattle
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
  • Hamburg
  • New York

What do these have in common? They're port cities, where cultures have met and traded and fought and blended for centuries. You don't find the same vitality in inland cities such as Frankfurt or Salt Lake City, which I've always found to be, well, boring.

I've never lived in a city for more than a few weeks, but I've always found the experience to be inspiring.

Figures (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341597)

That's why all big cities tend to be Liberal enclaves. It's all those impaired brains!

I don't think so (2, Funny)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341621)

I mean, I can post this from my cell phone while walking in the city...sorry what....was I talking.....gotta go, I see something shiny!

Bad Example (1)

jonadab (583620) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341689)

> 'It's not an accident that Central Park is in the middle of
> Manhattan,' says Berman. 'They needed to put a park there.'"

Maybe it's just me, but personally I would have considered Central Park to be an urban environment, not very much less crowded than a city street. It *certainly* doesn't qualify as a natural setting of any kind.

Mental Exercise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341691)

This seems similar to an argument that a person is more tired in a gym working out than if they were just walking down the street. Wouldn't the heightened distraction train you to focus more? Are "country folk" better at focusing and thinking? This is story seems to prove that people focus better because of the city when they are taken out of the distraction. Seems like people run faster when they are normally in the gym and then are put on the street............

And this is why... (1)

Rooked_One (591287) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341771)

ADD has evolved.

Some might say its a disorder, but once you learn to cope with it, your "multi-tasking skills" go through the roof - or maybe i'm just a freak - i've been accused of both.

wait... pineapple?

Central Park wasn't central when it was built (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#26341797)

'It's not an accident that Central Park is in the middle of Manhattan,' says Berman. 'They needed to put a park there.'

.
Central Park is the product of the same political compromises that put the county seat in Dogpatch as a close to dead-center on the map as it is physically possible.

In 1855, the site was uptown rock and swamp, suburban, lightly inhabited, difficult to develop commercially.

840 acres of [mostly] rustic, naturalistic, park, still looked to be a less expensive proposition than a densely populated public garden less than one-tenth its size - and - not incidentally - far more attractive to its future and very wealthy neighbors. CentralParkHistory.com [centralparkhistory.com]

A study Id like to read... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26341801)

Let me know when they do a study about the effects of how reading slashdot hurts your brain. Id like to hear that read.

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